UGANDA: Criminalise FGM Now To Save Young Girls
Kampala — Women of Bukwa on their way to a female genital mutilation exercise.
SHE lay on an old sack spread on the dirty ground, her legs spread wide apart. An old woman with dirt-smudged fingers bent over her with razor blades. A man stood at her head holding it between his feet so she could not move. A crowd of mainly children curiously stared as the old woman cut bits of her private parts.
Female genital cutting/mutilation is not only a dehumanising act, it is an abuse of human rights and has implications on women's health and rights. But it continues to take place.
In the past two weeks alone, over 100 girls have undergone the gruesome practice in Bukwa district, at the north-eastern border between Uganda and Kenya.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM), involves the cutting or alteration of the female genitalia for social rather than medical reasons.
The Population Reference Bureau states that over three million girls are at risk of FGM every year in Africa alone though prevalence of the practice in Uganda is less than 1%.
WHO has classified the FGM into four broad types:
In Type 1 or Clitoridectomy: the clitoris and/or the clitoral hood are partially or totally removed.
Type 2 or Excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
Type 3 or Infibulation: This is the most serious type of FGM. Here, the vaginal orifice is narrowed with creation of a covering seal by cutting and placing together the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without cutting out the clitoris.
Type 4 or Unclassified: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation.
In Kapchorwa and Bukwa in Uganda, the type of FGM practiced is Type 2.
According to Alex Kiprotich, a law enforcement officer in Bukwa, the traditional 'surgeons' cut off the clitoris and the labia minora of the girls.
Speaking to The New Vision last week, he said in Bukwa, they do not treat the wounds with anything.
"They believe that urine can heal the wound. They advise the girls to rub their thighs together and keep some urine in as a means to treat the wound," Kiprotich said.
In Bukwa district alone, over 100 girls have been cut this month. Another 52 girls were to be cut last Saturday.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has classified FGM as the cruellest and severest form of torture against girls and young women.
FGM contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Some countries like Egypt that have a prevalence of FGM of over 90%, have criminalised the practice, but Uganda does not yet have a specific law against FGM.
Kapchorwa local government, where the practice is most common, has already passed a by-law prohibiting FGM. But district councils are restricted and cannot impose serious punishment on culprits. Local governments, for example, cannot impose a jail term exceeding six months.
Uganda outlawed FGM in 1989, but there is no law to charge those who practice it. This makes the need for a national law more imperative. Two weeks ago, parliamentarians discussed the need to draft a law.
Speaking to Vision Voice, Parlaiment Speaker Rebecca Kadaga intimated that the parliamentarains would fast track the law on FGM.
A group of Parliamentarians have already drafted a Bill seeking to criminalise the practice. The MPs are concerned that the Government has not taken the initiative to enact the law.
Why should we care?
Though Uganda is not listed among the countries with high prevalence, the practice seems to be growing. The New Vision reported early this month that cases of FGM had increased in Karamoja, an area that culturally did not practice it.
Hundreds of girls are reported to have been circumcised among the Pokot in Nakapiripirit district and among the Tepeth on the slopes of Mt. Moroto. More girls are reported to have been cut in Amudat and Kokabok parishes, Pokot county in Nakapiripirit.
Studies show that the practice now exists in Kamuli, Kamwenge, Isingiro and Masindi. According to WHO, the prevalence in Uganda could be 5%.
FGM is classified as a harmful practice. Kadaga said over 500 girls had died in Uganda since the 1960s as a result of the practice. Many girls who are lucky to survive the ordeal live with complications.
A 2006 UN study found that women who have been subjected to the most serious form of FGM - Type III will have, on average, 30% more caesarean sections compared with those who have not had any FGM. Women who have been cut are more likely to suffer severe bleeding after childbirth than those who have not suffered FGM.
In the short term, girls may bleed severely, leading to shock and death. Others suffer from infections and tetanus arising from the poor hygiene during the procedure. In some cases, they fail to heal, get urinary tract infections or growths of scar tissue. They may also be exposed to HIV and hepatitis and other blood diseases.
FGM, being a cultural issue, is not easy to handle. Solutions require building consensus with communities.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, over the last decade, figures show little or no apparent change in countries with a high prevalence of FGM. For example,FGM only dropped to 96% (in 2005) from 97% in Egypt where the practice has been criminalised. In Ethipia, it dropped by only 6% (from 80% to 74%). Ethiopia also has a national law against FGM.
The United Nations Population Fund, in collaboration with REACH, an NGO, has already done a lot of work in Kapchorwa, but there is need for more stakeholers to work together to end this vice.
AUTHOR: Catherine Mwesigwa
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